Portland Police to Add Mental Health Unit

Kermit Cole
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The Portland, Oregon Police Bureau is creating a mental health crisis intervention team in response to a Justice Department investigation that found  too-frequent use of excessive force. The investigation found that officers were too likely to use Taser stun guns and other forms of excessive force without justification against people experiencing a mental health crisis.

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected]

9 COMMENTS

  1. I did not read this article, but a special police unit just for mental health spells trouble. It justifies the notion that people undergoing a mental health crisis are a special kind of people requiring a special kind of treatment.

    Does Portland’s government have too much money and not another way to throw it to the wind?

    I know that Will Hall lives in Portland and is a big supporter of social service budgets but I can’t imagine he would want this.

    • But in a way they are. Police are no trained to deal with the mentally or emotionally unstable. They are trained to deal with norms and hardened criminals. For example: normally a police officer will raise their voice and become belligerent to intimidate a suspect and end a potential conflict, but if they do that to someone in an extreme state of mind it will backfire. I’ve seen dozens of youtube videos and have read even more articles over the years along the lines of “police taze woman for crying” and “police beat man whose son just died” because of this problem.

  2. Emily:
    The phrase you used, “It justifies the notion that people undergoing a mental health crisis are a special kInd of people who require a special kind of treatment” is interesting. I think many of us would object to “a special kind of people”, but would not object to the concept that they require “a special kind of treatment” (if interpreted to mean “not the treatment given to criminals”….referencing Jeffrey’s comment above). I wonder if part of your reaction is in anticipation that the existence of special units will lead to more frequent use of unwarranted intervention by authorities.
    Respectfully,
    Ed

  3. As a Portland resident, I can tell you that the main reason they’re doing this is because there have been a number of incidents where people having mental/emotional crises have been shot and sometimes killed, not to mention tazed, maced, or otherwise traumatized. I think it’s probably a good idea to have a unit that is better trained to deal with traumatized or emotionally upset individuals, depending on what kind of training they get. I’m assuming the goal will be to communicate before shooting, which I have to imagine will be a step in the right direction.

    —- Steve

  4. In Australia ALL of our police recieve so called special training to help such people. It is the most pathetic thing possible and has only made things a thousand times worse. The training is along these lines. It is important for them to understand that some people have brain diseases that are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. We do have medications to treat them that are MORE effective than insulin for diabetes but their brain disease means that they do not understand the need for them to take this medication each and every day for the rest of their lives!! Add to that they are then trained in how to diagnose someone!! They are trained in the primary diagnoses if Depression, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Borderline Persoanality Disorder, Anxiety, etc. And then they start to diagnsoe every second person that walks down the street, they even start to diagnose each other. Mental health professionals call this a good thing. It even has been known to make some of them realise they need antidepressents to treat their own symptoms of mild depression or anxiety and that will apparently make them ‘better’ police!! Given that the side effects of these medications are aggitation and suicide, I hardly think that is good for a police officer to be on!!! But no one in Australia will acknowledge any of the side effects. We do not even acknowledge the risk to teenagers and we hand them out like candy!!! Police are the ambulances of choice when transporting someone to a psych ward. With public outcry about that they now forcibly anethitise people so they can be taken in for an assessment interview!!! At least in the police car they did not have more drugs forced into them!!!

    The simple fact is police should be trained to talk to ALL people first. Aggression does not help anyone. Two wrongs do not make a right. Just because someone has been aggressive does not mean that we should respond to aggression, when we can safely contain them without it. No one will ever know why someone has reacted as they are and we need to always take the benefit of the doubt. If someone is holding a knife, they can in 99% of cases be talked into putting it down. May take time but it can happen. Why should a person be killed or seriously injured, just because they are holding a knife. Screaming at someone rarely creates cooperation, unless they are fully functioning law obiding citizens to begin with. Hostage situations are the classic example. They bring in trained negotators. Why not have them at all times??

    By all means extend the training of negotators and that will not be a bad thing. But this is about training them in mental health and one can only guess what that means. We know who will do the training!! And simply having the police begin to cart everyone off to psych wards does not help either.

    Our psychiatric wards here, now have more security guards than clinical staff. Clinical staff will not talk to anyone and will not listen. Classic example. A person was hearing voices telling them that people were going to kill them. Rather than go and ask them what was going on, the next thing they knew they saw six security guards and a nurse with a hyperdermice needle running towards them. They were manhandled to the ground, stripped naked, injected and shoved into a seclusion room. Fact is clinical mental health staff cannot talk to those who are unwell, so why do they criticise the police when they are not able to do it!! Perhaps they should start training themsevles before they start expecting the rest of the population to do something that they themselves cannot do.

    treat people as you yourself would want to be treated. When you make out that people are dangerous to other people and not capable of making decisions people respond in an aggressive way. It is also why ALL the antistigma campagins have not worked and have instead worked to INCREASE stigma. If you told them that they are simply having a hard time at the moment, people relate and are sympathetic. Tell them they have a brain disease that makes them dangerous and they also respond, but not how you want them to.

  5. Wow, that is pitiful! I meant it when I said, “Depending on what kind of training they get.” I was assuming they were thinking of something along the lines of “trauma informed care,” i.e. how to approach a person who may have been historically traumatized (often by other police officers) and may automatically view a police officer as a threat. But of course, you’re right – this same thinking should be applied to pretty much anyone who is in distress, even if it’s just the fear of being caught for a crime they just committed. Training in “brain disease” thinking may make it MORE likely that they’ll taze somebody, because they will find it easier to distance themselves from the victim. EMPATHY is the key element in any effective training along these lines. If that’s absent, it’s worse than a waste of resources.